The full winter experience is something to be cherished

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The Independent Online
"LET IT snow, let it snow, let it snow'. I can't remember which of this century's great Christmas lyricists was blessed with the inspiration for this uplifting refrain. But, as it wafted tinnily from the ceiling of my local branch of Homebase this week, I was moved heartily to concur.

Of course, the unknown caroller (was it Max Bygraves?) can't be craving the "wrong type of snow"... not the kind that causes trains to halt, cars to collide and matches to be cancelled. What our dreamer (Val Doonican?) requires is the white, fluffy sort which causes no impediment to the smooth, smiley passage of life, necessitates the wearing of new hats and scarves and draws the festive fixture list into romantic soft-focus. Long may that image be perpetuated and protected from those who would rather football took a winter break. What are they thinking? Isn't football meant to be our winter sport? Let the Scots have a rest if they think its clever; presumably, the Norwegians have little option; but please can we continue to revel in our deliciously unpredictable climate and ride with its vagaries?

This has been the first really wintry week of the season, perhaps in divine deference to those who complained that the new pre-Christmas FA Cup third round weekend was somehow too temperate. As usual, the initial gust of cold air caught me unprepared in the thermal underwear department. However, the discomfort of a freezing League Cup tie at Bolton was made worthwhile for all that went with it... early evening snow flickering past the floodlights; grimacing players squelching delicately on to the field to carry out their pre-match inspection; then the same players gritting their teeth against the temperature and tearing into the fray; Santa Claus hats in the crowd; hot soup in the press room.

Disappointingly, the weather in Bolton wasn't quite extreme enough for the full winter experience. Archetypal Englishman that I am, I remarked on it to the Wimbledon manager Egil Olsen, who was predictably unimpressed: "It's minus 15 in Oslo, you know". The players (including, suitably enough, three from Denmark, two from Norway, two from Iceland and one from Finland) found it far too easy to cope. In fact, three of the best were a couple of Jamaicans and a South African. Carl Cort (an Englishman) was the only one (goalkeepers apart) to wear gloves. However, it was cold enough to provoke thoughts of how much the English game would have lost over the years if we had simply surrendered to the weather and interrupted the schedule. No season is complete, for instance, without at least one orange ball, no groundsman should escape without having to sweep the lines, no self-respecting footballer should consider his training kit complete without a woolly hat.

It is characteristic of the English campaign that our clubs should have to play in vastly variable conditions. In fact, nowadays (as opposed to the glorious years of grassless mud at the Baseball Ground) pitches (relaid, heated, scientifically treated) tend to be so good that the variables are fewer. So we should make the most of the different dimensions that the weather can still provide... laugh in the face of those who would seek to blame the conditions for their own shortcomings. At Boothferry Park last Saturday, the received wisdom was that - for a Cup-tie against a technically-gifted side like Chelsea - the playing surface was so good as to be detrimental to Hull, but that the driving rain could benefit them. If only there'd been some mud beneath the Tiger feet.

Of course, no one advocates the playing of high-level sport in dangerous conditions. Bones break on frozen pitches. So, in extremis, you must learn to derive fun out of mass postponements. First, you take pleasure in the the amusingly pointless "classified check", in which the announcer, rather than simply telling us that "the whole lot was called off", insists on delivering the entire list all the way from "Arsenal against Wimbledon - match postponed" to "Stenhousemuir against Brechin City - match postponed". But you have to stay awake because, bang in the middle somewhere without any change in intonation, he'll fox you with an unexpected "Mansfield Town 1, Shrewsbury Town 1".

Then you can guess which edition of the Two Ronnies will replace Match of the Day... and, in the longer term, adding new lustre to the season's run-in while providing under-pressure managers with the chance to blame fixture congestion, you wait for all the postponed games to be rescheduled for April. Thanks to winter's icy grip, supporters have the opportunity to anticipate the same games all over again.

Peter Drury is an ITV sports commentator